Friday Philosophy: The Closet

The Closet is a scary place, filled with gremlins and goblins and things that go bump in the night.  I lived there until I was 44.  Or maybe I didn’t.

Maybe it’s all a matter of point of view.

Recently I have been expressing my displeasure about people talking about “self-loathing, in the closet gays.”  Sure, they have couched it in terms of Republicans, but political party doesn’t change the adjectives which have been used.  They still hurt.

They still have displayed how much little understanding there is of people who are different in fundamental ways from others.

So do the gay jokes.  Or rather, the anti-gay jokes.  My ears don’t hear any difference.

When I was small, there were no gay people.  They didn’t exist.  Gender was inflexible.

Then there was the bogeyman.  This creature would steal children and rape them.  And everyone knew he was homosexual.  At least that’s what we were told as children, regardless of our sex.  And here I was, unsure about who I really was.  Was I going to grow up to be a bogeyman?

In junior high and high school, they were queers.  And I lost some friends because it was not okay to be friends with queers.  And I lost respect for who I was, since I knew that I was all of those things my friends rejected:  a cry-baby, a sissy, and a wimp.  If there was any word for a useless male, it described me.  Except queer.  I was adamantly not queer.

Except maybe I was.  However much I didn’t want it to be so, I kept wondering if maybe I was.  Maybe my thoughts meant that.  I insisted to myself it was actions, not thoughts that mattered.

When I first went to college, I learned what a life could be…and that I didn’t have that sort of life.  I tried to end it.  But I didn’t loathe who I was.  Hating one’s life is not the same as hating one’s being.  I liked me.  It’s just that I was positive that nobody else did.  And it was obvious that if people knew my secrets, they would like me even less.  So why should I go on?

When I fled to the Haight, I discovered that the free love people were not as open to people being different as it had been portrayed…or maybe that was “as I imagined.”  Maybe it was all a fantasy.  My life, though filled with incredible adventures, was not pleasing to me.  I was oh, so lonely.  Being asexual didn’t help.

And then one day I wasn’t asexual any more.  And someone didn’t tell me that I should go away. 

Fear does incredibly harmful things to all of us and to the people around us.  I was afraid of being alone.  Finding someone we care about and trying to hang on for dear life is something that regretfully many of us do.  Except I don’t really regret it.  I’m who I am now because of what happened in my past.

In my case I got someone pregnant.  At least I assumed it was me (it was hippie days) and seeing my daughter as an adult, nobody in their right mind would think us not related.

So I committed for the long haul…at least 18 years, I figured.  I got married.  And I tried as best I knew how to adapt to that life.  I didn’t loathe my life.  I was doing my duty, the best I knew how.  Happiness was for other people.

And one day, when she was in 4th grade, I discovered that my daughter liked girls…that she was probably going to grow up to be a lesbian.  And I was okay with that…except maybe somewhat jealous.  And through the years she became comfortable with herself.  And that was good.  And I was proud.

For me, I had been bending my gender a little through the years, but I was still too frightened to act.

Here’s a question.  At what point did I enter The Closet?  Was it rather not actually the case that while I was trying to live my life, a closet was being built around me?  Do people really think that someone like me chose to be in a closet?  Was it me who chose to be hidden or society which wanted me hid?

On September 30, I will have been out for the past 15 years.  Just like I did not really choose to be in a closet, I didn’t really choose to be an openly lesbian transsexual woman.  I chose to remain a professor at a public university in Arkansas.  And I chose to have my sex reassigned.  Everything else that happened about me being out was beyond my control.

I wrote something in a comment the other day:

Coming out has a lot to do with coming to grips with the knowledge that one was different from others in ways that at one time one didn’t even know it was possible to be.  When I grew up, there were no gay people.  They didn’t exist.  Then they became the boogie man.  Then they became queers.  Then they became gays and lesbians because my daughter is a lesbian.  And all alongside that were the uncertainty of whether or not that was ever going to be me.

Coming out isn’t when you cross that boundary, but when you turn around to look back at the other people.

Maybe this means something.  Maybe more understanding will occur.  One can hope.


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    • Robyn on September 15, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Joni Mitchell:

    Tears and fears and feeling proud
    to say “i love you” right out loud,
    Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
    i’ve looked at life that way.
    But now old friends
    are acting strange,
    they shake their heads,
    they say I’ve changed.
    Something’s lost
    but something’s gained
    in living every day.

    I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
    From win and lose, and still somehow
    It’s life’s illusions I recall.
    I really don’t know life at all.


    • SallyCat on September 15, 2007 at 12:03 am

    where you are today. I’m not sure how many of us have the strength to take the roads you have. You are an inspiration to us…and I hope we would have been your friends along the way.

    Blessed be Robyn!

  1. just. wow. i too was a pretty late ‘arrival’–just shy of my 30th birthday, 11 years ago.

    you’ve captured much here. eloquently.

    • wu ming on September 15, 2007 at 12:11 am

    for heterosexuals such as myself. it is one thing to be opposed to discrimination and bias on abstract grounds, but it becomes all the more real, in an empathetic sense, when we are given permission to see things through the eyes of those forced in closets. i learned a tremendous amount when an acquaintance in college came out to me freshman year, and then again when my sister did when she was in high school. thank you for this window.

    by the way, here is another diary, from the perspective of a transgender author, from eurotrib that made an impression on me: “In the Land between Blue and Pink” BY HELEN.

    • plf515 on September 15, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Did you see the NYTimes article on Sept 10 on the transgender principal?


  2. but I do know my feminine side is a lipstick lesbian.

    It’s all about spectrums and not a black/white model.

    • pfiore8 on September 15, 2007 at 12:54 am

    an amazing journey… this place, your story

    it’s opening lots of closets… some of us are in the closet and others of us stuff them full of stuff we don’t care to deal with

    i’m glad to get to know…

  3. when a society labels us by gender or race or beliefs as other, not just the other but a  dangerous deviant from the norm and some how the boogie man, witch or the heretic. We all as children are carefully taught to fear, and in these times fear seems to be the most rampant epidemic going. Homophobia seems the most absurd of all fears, were all trans gender in a way, we contain and mirror both the feminine and masculine and who draws the line? For sure it should not be a society that requires us all to enter closets, and fear our own true selves our true and beautiful selves.

    • snud on September 15, 2007 at 1:23 am

    when I was about 7 or 8, lived under my bed. I’d wake up and I knew he/it was there and that if I so much as moved a muscle, I was toast.

    So I lay there, sometimes for hours, unable to sleep, in my sweat.

    Usually the things I imagine about a difficult situation are worse than the reality. (I’m in *no way* trivializing what you’ve gone through – as I said, I’m way off topic here!)

    Horror movie directors use this all the time when they don’t show you the monster. You know… they use “monster vision” where the camera’s scooting along the ground, chasing the terrified victim with “monster noises” coming through the soundtrack.

    I don’t know who said it – but as (somewhat of) a photographer I always liked the saying: “To suggest is to create… To define is to destroy.”

    A little more back on topic – I very much enjoyed your essay and am very glad you seem to have found your “place” in what’s often a very unfair and cruel world.

    I’m a hopeless heterosexual but I try to imagine what it would be like to have to hide my preferences and I just cannot imagine what you (and millions of others)  have had to go through because other people can be so screwed up.

    The closet can’t be a nice place to be.  Best wishes . . .

  4. discussing this topic with you has been more helpful than with anyone.

    to say that i was hurt when my ex left me makes it sound like it was the coming out that hurt me.  thats not true…that was just the ‘when’.  the actual hurt was that he married me to begin with, technically…but it was only when he came out that i got clued in…

    i think im beginning to understand the ‘whys’ of the closet a little more.  i can completely agree with your rationale of society creating the closet in terms of the mindset of a person living with that kind of fear and alienation…im not prepared, however, to excuse his choices in our case.  not that i throw a lot of ‘blame’…its mostly water under the bridge for us.  we’re just trying to raise our kids and all get along.

  5. how much better it’s gotten might be true, but on the individual level, it can still be hell. Thanks for sharing.

  6. You are a true educator.

  7. of the Not Gay republicans let me first apologize and secondly explain my point of view.  The reason I felt it was alright to make fun of these guys was not the fact that they were in the closet but simply that they were being hypocritical in their votes and their political personas.  I did however cross the line, but did not realize it until I read your piece.

    Thanks for that.

  8. Roll on.

    Thanks R!

  9. When I was in high school I dated a guy but became very close to his step sister.  She was the only other girl who had lost her mother in those tender early years like I had.  There is such a deep sorrowful grief when you grow up a woman who had a mother die, abandoned you and life while you were still a child……you doubt everything forever after that in ways that are foreign to people who never had that experience and feared the death of mother more than their own once too.  They get to have a different sort of confidence about things because the unthinkable didn’t happen to them.  As young adults though my friend tried to kill herself because not only had she been challenged by the loss of her mother but she was also gay.  Her natural father was deeply ashamed, she moved to another state with a love that didn’t work out and when she came home she tried to kill herself.  It was more than I could bear to lose her because she was a part of my soul growing up….the only other person in the whole world who could sit in a room with me for hours completely quiet while we grieved this difficult coming to womanhood that was ours.  She began going to a church and attempting to do the degayifying thing and I told I was terrified she would try to kill herself again.  I wanted her to be happy and alive and I really didn’t care how she went about that.  I have not seen her since it became obvious to her that my fears weren’t going to be very supportive of her making herself live a proper with God straight lifestyle.  I still find myself at times gripped with fear that she isn’t with me anymore…..after so many years of not seeing her face again.

  10. and am left somewhat breathless. You are an amazing person and I am glad to be acquainted with you in this “virtual” world.

  11. We don’t get to choose our circumstances, it’s true. Sometimes a life such as ours seems like a journey across The Forty-Three Deserts. One may lose career and material security entirely, or be rejected by one’s own closest relatives. But one can also learn again how to laugh and sing and savor each day as would a child. Hearing chapters of your story always gives me hope.

    • jessical on September 16, 2007 at 9:54 am

    I finally threw up (heh, sadly, you may consider that the literary form as well) a piece on all this outing stuff over on the orange (I didn’t do it here as it would stick around too long, and it wasn’t that carefully considered lol).

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